There’s no need to go berserk with booze

Although he's got almost a decade still to wait, my lad Gregory has already planned how he will celebrate his 18th birthday. To mark this most important milestone, the generous young chap wants to treat me to a pint of real ale at the Fat Cat.

Although he's got almost a decade still to wait, my lad Gregory has already planned how he will celebrate his 18th birthday. To mark this most important milestone, the generous young chap wants to treat me to a pint of real ale at the Fat Cat. How very sociable!

He's never visited the Fat Cat and, actually, neither have I. The award-winning and highly acclaimed Norwich freehouse isn't within 'stumbling distance' of Bullock Towers for the walk home.

But eight-year-old Gregory has long been enchanted by its name and is therefore intent on popping in for his first legal pint of beer… in late December 2016.

The thought of me and my grown-up son supping ale through frothy moustaches, quietly discussing its hoppy aroma and specific gravity in a mature manner, is certainly appealing.

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I can't help thinking, though, that his 18th birthday celebration will be a far wilder affair than a humble pint and a bag of pork scratchings in the uncool company of his dear old dad.

Indeed, Mummy and Daddy will doubtless be left off the guest list altogether when Gregory and his mates hit the town for some high-spirited partying. The days of sensible sandwiches, chocolate fingers and closely supervised pass-the-parcel will be well and truly over… unfortunately.

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Not a lot of booze is consumed here at Bullock Towers: the odd (and it sometimes tastes very odd) glass of cheap white wine with a Sunday roast or an occasional bottle of bitter in front of the TV.

I've never been a regular drinker and quickly feel giddy after a single flute of champagne at a wedding or a sweet sherry at Christmas.

If the conversation and the company are enjoyable, I can happily spin a couple of pints of ale out all evening at the pub. My addiction is not for alcohol - it's an uncontrollable urge to buy endless packets of fattening peanuts, crisps and snacks from the bar.

Rightly or wrongly, I do allow Gregory to have a sip of my beer if drinking at home. Though some might say that's irresponsible parenting, I prefer him to regard drink as a low-key and normal part of family life: something to be enjoyed harmlessly and pleasurably in moderation.

I reckon that treating alcohol as some mysterious and even naughty indulgence that's strictly for grown-ups only encourages youngsters to access it covertly and in large quantities too - a kind of kiddies' beer race.

On my very occasional evening trips into Norwich city centre, I am alarmed and amazed by the quantity of booze consumed by young people in overcrowded bars and clubs where the ambient noise is so deafening that orders have to be shouted directly into the barman's ear-hole and where there is no hope of either a sensible conversation or a game of dominoes.

The sight of lager-swigging lads and lasses ordering expensive rounds of drinks until the small hours always intrigues me. Where on earth do they get all their money from? Mum and Dad perhaps? And, more to the point, how come they're not all fat?

While even a pint of mild seems to send my beer belly ballooning, these skinny kids can sink a skinful and still have waists the same circumference as my upper thigh.

I'm far from surprised by recent reports that the government's bizarre and wholly unnecessary 24-hour licensing system has brought a rise in street crime nationally.

The thinking, of course, was that extended licensing hours would create a relaxed Mediterranean café culture. The reality, however, is that we don't 'do' café culture like Mediterraneans.

Cool folk from warmer climes sit in calm sophistication with their drinks, flicking through newspapers, enjoying chess or chatting all evening as their children laugh and play in the public squares and gardens.

Afternoon siestas over and the searing heat of the day subsiding, people of all ages - from great-grandparents to toddlers - dress up smartly and relax outside bars and restaurants.

They don't need to prove anything through excessive behaviour. They don't need to flaunt their piercings in revealing clothes, roll around in the gutter or drink for England: they are, after all, not English.

Our 'café culture' seems to consist of guzzling vast quantities of beer and spirits before either making a sexual conquest or being sick in a shop doorway… and sometimes both. Nice.

Hopefully, Gregory will take a more sober approach to the pleasures of drinking when he comes of age. A quiet pint at the Fat Cat would be just purrfect.

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